Posted On March 7, 2018 by

What Makes a Great Fiction Book Editor? by Tessa Shapcott

Welcome back to Tessa Shapcotthere with another fabulous post – what kind of editor do you need? A great one of course!

Tessa Shapcott

There is a myth that a good writer doesn’t need an editor. I’d challenge that and then some. A good writer not only needs an editor but deserves a great one.

So, how do you know your editor is great for you and your books?

Of course, there are different types of editor, each of whom will be involved in the various stages of your novel as it travels towards publication. The developmental editor (AKA the commissioning or acquiring editor) will work with you in depth on the structure and content of your book, helping you to develop your characters, storylining and plotting and to enhance your storytelling abilities.  Line editors take over from the developmental editor, looking at the manuscript as a whole, to fix issues such as continuity, language, sense and style, ensuring readability. The copy editor becomes involved at that next stage, as the person who dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s by checking facts, grammar, punctuation and spelling.  Finally, the proof-reader takes care of the typeset or formatted version, watching out for glitches and catching anything that was missed (and despite all the eyes involved, things can be).

Whatever stage you are at in the publication process, it’s essential that you feel confident and comfortable with the editor to whom you’ve entrusted your ‘baby’. Unfortunately, there are bad editors out there. Like all creative professions, the role attracts its share of poseurs and wannabees!  But there are also many brilliant editors too. So here is a list of qualities to look for when either you are assigned a new editor by your publisher or you hire a freelancer that will help you to know when you’ve found a gem.

  • A great editor is passionate about books. Try to get her chatting about fiction, what she likes to read, the authors she admires. If she bubbles over with enthusiasm, knowledge and joy, those are very good signs.
  • She has a business head. She possesses strong market knowledge and sound commercial judgement; she knows what sells and has her radar switched on for the trends she sees happening now and coming soon.
  • She communicates promptly and professionally, always keeping you, the writer, in the loop.
  • She loves and understands authors. She knows what makes you tick; what to do when the words aren’t flowing, when and how to run with you when they are, when to listen and when to chivvy. She always makes time for you and is your best writing buddy.
  • She has respect for the author’s voice. She climbs into your characters with you, living and breathing them too. She never micro-edits, but instead quietly keeps the train on the tracks by using her skills to coax you, and develop and enhance your narrative, leaving your unique style intact.
  • She is always eagle-eyed and consistent. She has the stamina and steadfastness to keep a keen eye on the ball and maintain the rhythm the whole way through the manuscript, holding all the strands together until the ends can be tied.
  • She can deliver criticism with objectivity, diplomacy and optimism. If revisions are needed, the author should be left feeling fired up and inspired for the task ahead, not daunted and overwhelmed.
  • She never outshines her author. She supports you to be the best you can be and is ready to praise you publicly without claiming the limelight for herself.

Are there any other qualities that you feel are important?  Have you had good or bad editor experiences? Please do leave your thoughts on the thread below―we’d love to hear them.


Join us on Friday for Damon Suede!


Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelance fiction editor. She also writes romance as Joanne Walsh.

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